The Faroe Islands are a wonderful and intriguing place, and not
at all how I imagined them to be. Greener than you can imagine,
which is accentuated by the many turf roofed houses around the place.
Okay, the infrastructure may not be great, and it was certainly
creaking with 700 or so Scottish fans in for the game, but this
is a laid back country where people will go out of their way to
help you. Of the 45,000 or so Faroese population, 16,000 live in
the capital Torshavn – we have bigger villages over here!
In fact, Torshavn isn’t too dissimilar from Milngavie (small
precinct, same number of pubs etc).
Although technically a county of Denmark, the Faroese are pretty
indepedently-minded, and are perhaps more similar to outlook to
their Icelandic neighbours than their Danish ones. Icelandic people
tease the Faroese about their parochial lifestyle (pot and kettle!),
and about their strange dialect. The funny thing is, with everything
we’d heard about how great Iceland is, compared to how backward
the Faroes is, we were expecting Torshavn to be a gentle warm-up
for Reykjavik – it should have been the other way around.
Whereas much of Iceland is stone cladding and corrugated iron, the
Faroes is genuinely rustic.
Food and drink wise, one warning to heed – it’s going
to be expensive! Alcohol was illegal for many years, and is still
heavily regulated. As a result, only a handful of “pubs”
exist, and some of these are attached to hotels or restaurants.
It’s very difficult to get spirits before evening (but then
again, all but the Café Natur are usually closed during the
day), and the local Foroyar Bior is pretty acidic stuff –
at least the Black Sheep lager has an amusing label. Public drunken-ness
is quite common, especially at weekends, and can be quite unpredictable.
One amusing by-law is that bars are not allowed to throw any drunks
out, in case they injure themselves, which leads to “a guaranteed
cabaret in every bar” (quote Tom Small and Maurice Hickey).
Another strange feature of pre-dawn Torshavn, again witnessed by
Tom and Maurice (you decide on the accuracy!), is people gathering
in the main precinct to drink moonshine or vodka, or as Mo put it:
“People coming out of the tress with bottles”. Strangely,
week beer (2% or so) is widely available all over the island like
a soft drink.
Flying into Vagur airport (the only
place in the islands with enough flat space to build a runway),
you have the feeling of really making an entrance. Atlantic Airways
planes are small, and they have to be, as you fly in low down a
fjord, feeling you could reach out the window and brush the grass
on the steep hillside either side – it’s like something
out of the Dambusters movie. Unsurprisingly, fog and inclement weather
can lead to delays and cancellations, and apparently special training
is needed for pilots to land here!
Atlantic run an erratic timetable between Aberdeen and Vagur a
couple of times a week annually, and some flights to Stansted to
London in the summer. There are also connections via Iceland (Reykjavik
City airport, rather than Keflavik), and a couple of airports in
Denmark (Billund and Copenhagen).
When we were there, getting to the capital city involved a bus
trip around snaking cliff-side roads, a ferry trip, and then back
on the bus – clocking in at around 90 minutes for the transfer.
Things should have improved dramatically with the opening of a tunnel
between the two islands.
The other way to get to the islands is by boat on the Smyril Line
car ferry Noronna. This boat plies a weekly summer route around
the North Atlantic, with ports of call at Torshavn, Lerwick, Hanstholm,
Bergen and Seyidsfour on the south-east Icelandic coast. The winter
timetable is subject to change – check out the details at
the Smyril Line website. You can’t miss Torshavn ferry port
– it’s just across from Tinganes, and down from Café
You’re not exactly spoiled for choice as regards museums,
but then, you’re probably not reading this site for cultural
advice anyway! The things you should probably make an effort to
check out are:
Tinganes – this
gorgeous wee peninsula splits the harbour, and is covered with
winding lanes and grass-roofed wooden houses. These are real houses,
with real people living in them, so best not to poke around too
much, but it is a lovely place to stroll.
Fort – Just behind
the Smyril Line ferry terminal is the remnants of an old Danish
army garrison fort. It’s open and free, so just wander up
for a nice view over the harbour.
Roof terrace of Hotel Hafnia
– brass neck your way up to the roof terrace for the best
high-level view of downtown Torshavn and the harbour.
Puffin cruise –
These are a bit misleading, as despite the pictures of cute wee
puffins all over the leaflets and posters promoting the cruise,
it seems that there’s hardly any left, as the locals have
eaten most of them! Two well-regarded companies operate out of
Vestmanna harbour, and you can catch regular buses from Torshavn.
Ferry to Toftir –
if you’ve loads of time on your hands, or are just an obsessive
ground-hopper, you could always make your way across to the most
scenic ground I have been to – at the top of a steep cliff
in Toftir. It’s either a bus or ferry ride, then a steep
hike, and there’s not much when you get to the top, save
a windswept pitch and breath-taking views over the fjord.
Err, this isn’t so much the best of list, rather it’s
the list. Hamstrung by nigh-prohibition level laws until only a
few years ago, the Faroese culture has yet to embrace social drinking.
And just to make matters worse, expect to pay around £6 a
The Dubliner - Owned
by the legendary and irrepressible Lars, this is one of the cheaper
places to drink, and it’s succeeded in taking much of Natur’s
trade. Expect drunken sing-alongs and dancing on the table to
a succession of locals belting out Irish pub standards at the
excellent karaoke session on Sunday afternoons/evenings. There’s
also a live band on Fridays and Saturdays, but there’s still
room to have a more peaceful chat in the back room. Be warned:
the toilets can take a bit of battering. This place can be tricky
to find - best ask a local or take one of the few cabs in town.
Café Natur - For
years, Café Natur was the only place to get a beer in Torshavn
(apart from the brewery, or the “key clubs”). It has
grown slightly in size over the years, adding a “mezzanine”
level, but is still a tiny place considering it has been the focal
point of Torshavn night-life for years. Sometimes home to live
music, and usually always to a lively atmosphere. The T-shirts
are an essential souvenir. Can get very crowded, and the local
jakey quotient is usually quite high.
Cleopatra's - Above a
decent standard restaurant, but best accessed from the main precinct
street, this decent bar (probably my favourite in the town) is
well worth a visit. Not much else to say, really!
Manhattan - Another bar
attached to a restaurant, although this one claims to do cocktails.
Er, that’s it.
Hafnia Bar - Breaking
with the bar/restaurant theme, this one is actually part of a
hotel. Comfortable, and a wee bit reminiscent of an airport lounge,
the best hotel in town was actually very welcoming and friendly
to the Tartan Army, extending the opening hours specially. The
Best Western up the big hill also has a bar, but we didn’t
have any need to go out that far.
Club/Disco - There is
a leisure complex of sorts, which boasts a couple of discos on
the top floor – one is for a younger crowd, the other for
the more mature swinger. As I was dry at the time of my visit,
and as the pubs were adequate enough, we didn’t venture
in (but many who did had a good time).
Key Clubs - These are
a strange feature left over from prohibition-era Faroes –
these are basically rooms with a bar in that serve alcohol (smuggled
in when it was banned), and are where the real Faroese drink.
They are unmarked – we spotted one a couple of streets west
off the main drag just by glancing a row of optics through an
upstairs window, then brass-necked it by walking around the back,
smiling at the doorman and ordering a drink. Slightly cheaper
than the actual pubs and bars, this is where you will meet the
real locals, and a few mad fishermen. The Tartan Army’s
great social commentators (Tom & Mo) memorably summed this
very place up as “like something out of Star Wars, with
eyes coming out the side of people’s heads”. Tricky
to find, but worth a visit.
Pizza 67 - Not a bar
as such, but an excellent pizzeria. This Icelandic chain has a
branch in the same leisure complex as the discos, and is absurdly
popular. A good choice for some decent, and relatively cheap,